Audiobook Review: Near the Bone by Christina Henry
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (April 13, 2021)
Length: 8 hrs and 39 mins
Narrator: Lisa Flanagan
Are you hankering for something scary, but can’t decide whether you want a survival horror, creature feature, or a bloody slasher? Believe it or not, Near the Bone has elements from all of these to satisfy any mood, and what’s certain is that Christina Henry had only one goal in mind when writing this book: to put her readers constantly on edge.
Our protagonist is Mattie, a young woman who lives on the mountain with her husband, William. For as long as she can remember, it has only been the two of them, eking out a meager existence from the wintry woods surrounding their tiny cabin. For one thing, William goes to great lengths to ensure they aren’t disturbed, warning off anyone who gets close to their property. Mattie herself is forbidden from talking to anyone or straying too far from the cabin. In fact, she is not allowed any outside contact at all. Her whole world revolves around serving William, cooking and cleaning for him, and to one day bear him the sons he so wants. But no matter what Mattie does, she can’t seem to please him. And whenever William is disappointed, he gets nasty with his insults and beats her mercilessly.
One day, Mattie is out checking the traps when she comes across the carcass of a fox that has been brutally ripped apart, as well as the nearby tracks of some mysterious creature—tracks that are much too large to have been made by any known predator. Determined to hunt and kill it, William goes into town for supplies, leaving Mattie at the cabin alone when two college students show up at the door, claiming to be cryptozoology enthusiasts. They’ve heard tell of a monster up in these mountains and are on a mission to seek it out. Horrified, Mattie tries to stop them, telling them they’re in way over their heads. Whatever this creature is, it’s dangerous and unnatural. However, rather than heed her warnings, one of the strangers seem more curious about Mattie, asserting that he’s seen her before. But that shouldn’t be possible, since Mattie can’t recall the last time she’s been in the presence of another person other than her husband. All she knows is that the students must leave. She doesn’t know what would be worse—that the young men would run afoul of the bloodthirsty creature, or if William found out they had been at to his home and had spoken to her.
The author wastes no time setting up the scene for a helter-skelter race for survival as Mattie and her new companions attempt to escape a nightmare scenario with threats coming at them from every direction. First there’s William, an enraged and fanatical madman armed to the teeth and who won’t hesitate to murder them all to prevent Mattie from leaving him. And then there’s the monster, a frighteningly intelligent creature capable of evil and great violence, which has its sights set on the humans who had invaded its home. All of this is set to the backdrop of the cold and forbidding mountainside, miles from civilization with no cell coverage. Our hapless characters are tired, injured, and ill-equipped for the weather and terrain, in no condition to fight off anything—human or supernatural—that’s hunting them.
There’s also a traumatic backstory for Mattie, involving kidnapping, child abuse, and domestic violence that might make this book a tough read for some. Heartbreaking as well were her constant feelings of terror and anxiety, from the years of intimidation and pain William had inflicted upon her. If I’m being honest, I personally found this thread surrounding our protagonist and her past to be far more mysterious, upsetting and horrific than any of the parts featuring the monster. Henry pulls no punches when it comes detailing the awfulness of Mattie’s existence, though it’s not done in a way that feels overly gratuitous—just keeping things real.
In fact, the story actually loses much of its grip on me in the later parts, as Mattie attempts to make her escape from the mountain with the college students. Here, the book takes on more of the tone of a teen slasher flick featuring helpless, naïve kids who are cluelessly stumbling around the woods trying to evade an axe murderer. While it was still suspenseful, the plot does become more pedestrian at this point, with over-the-top scenes of blood and gore as well as tacky unrealistic dialogue by characters that undermined what should have been a downright terrifying scenario.
Ultimately, it was undoubtedly the smaller, subtler moments of horror in this book that were more effective, and which resonated more powerfully with me. For this reason, I was also not as bothered by the vagueness of the ending, since I felt it was appropriate that some of the mystery be preserved, but I can also understand why some might be frustrated by the lack of answers or explanation of the creature. Overall, Near the Bone can’t be rightly called a popcorn or “light” read since it contains an abundance of overly dark and disturbing themes, though it does go by rather quickly, and there’s certainly enough to give one a quick shot of fright if a no-frills, fast-paced horror is what you’re in the mood for.